PROVIDENCE — Governor Gina M. Raimondo on Wednesday issued an executive order to ban the sale of flavored electronic cigarettes in Rhode Island.
In her State House office, Raimondo signed an order directing the state Department of Health to enact emergency regulations in response to a national spike in vaping-related illnesses and deaths.
Raimondo’s initiative comes a week after Michigan and New York banned the sale of flavored e-cigarettes, and just a day after Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker ordered a more far-reaching, four-month ban on the sale of all vaping products in Massachusetts.
Raimondo told reporters Wednesday that she considers vaping a public health crisis.
“I hear from parents and teachers and coaches that the use of flavored e-cigarettes among teenagers and middle-school students is alarming and rising and scary,” the governor said. “As a mother, I see it with my children’s friends and what they see in school.”
Baker’s decision to declare a public health emergency — and apply the ban to both tobacco and marijuana vaping products — quickly reverberated through the country, drawing praise from concerned medical professionals and consternation from the fledgling legal cannabis industry.
The ban, which the Massachusetts Public Health Council quickly approved Tuesday, took effect immediately and will last through Jan. 25, though Baker and the council could choose to extend it. It includes both flavored and unflavored vaping products, and applies to online and retail sales alike.
The Baker administration stressed that the decision is intended to allow the medical community and federal officials time to investigate what’s driving the spike in illnesses, which have been tied to nine deaths and 530 cases nationwide. Massachusetts officials have reported 61 possible cases in the state as of Monday — a jump from 38 just last week.
When asked if Massachusetts went too far in its ban, Raimondo said Wednesday: “It is different in Massachusetts because they have adult-use marijuana.”
“The crisis that is here before us, that I’m most worried about is for our kids -- our children who are using these products at an alarming rate, predominently flavored products,” she added.
CVS Health, the pharmacy chain based in Woonsocket, R.I., issued a statement praising Wednesday’s ban.
“Governor Raimondo is taking a critical step to curtail the use of flavored e-cigarettes in our home state of Rhode Island,” the company said. “This important action will reduce the number of youths in the state who are exposed to tobacco and other harmful products, which can reduce the prevalence of tobacco-related diseases and make a significant impact on the health of our next generation.”
Dino Baccari — owner of White Horse Vapor, which has stores in Cranston, Warwick, and North Providence — called Raimondo’s action “totally irresponsible” and “a load of hypocrisy.”
The state should be enforcing laws against selling flavored e-cigarettes to minors the same way it enforces laws against selling alcohol to minors, Baccari said. The ban is bound to drive people to the black market, where products are unreliable, or to regular tobacco cigarettes, which are a proven health hazard, he said.
Baccari had even harsher criticism for Baker’s ban on all vaping products in Massachusetts.
“It’s the most radical thing I could ever imagine,” he said. “You are banning the wrong product.”
He argued that health problems arise from inhaling products sold at state-licensed facilities such as THC.
Rhode Island has about 450 sites that are licensed to sell vaping and electronic cigarette products, Department of Health spokesman Joseph Wendelken said.
The state Department of Health only reports confirmed cases of vaping-related illness, and it had not confirmed any such cases as of Wednesday, Wendelken said.
Nationwide, vaping has been tied to nine deaths and 530 illnesses. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doesn’t yet know what is behind those cases, but a significant number of them involve vaping with devices containing THC, Wendelken said.